Posts Tagged ‘Simon Yam’

BLACK RANSOM [SEE PIU FUNG WAN | 撕票風雲]

2010/07/02

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HONG KONG 2010  Directed by: Keung Kwok-Man, Wong Jing  Written by: Wong Jing  Produced by: Wong Jing Cinematography: Keung Kwok-Man Editing: Lee Kar-Wing Music: Henry Lai  Cast: c, Kiu Wai Miu, Fala Chen, Andy On, Yang Liu, Tak-Bun Wong, Vincent Wong, Ying Qu, Hiromi Wada, Ada Wong, Yu Xing, Winnie Leung

A Wong Jing movie is with almost 100% certainty always a Wong Jing movie. No matter what you do, it is going to look and feel like a Wong Jing movie. I have respect for him for creating his own trademark movie style and recipe (less respect though for his copy-and-paste philosophy). That doesn’t mean that I like his movies. I seldom do, frankly speaking.

BLACK RANSOM is one of Wong Jing’s better efforts and clearly his best movie in 2010 so far (having said that he’ll probably produce another dozen movies or so until year-end). BLACK RANSOM is still a very typical movie however, and this time I realized that a Wong Jing movie doesn’t actually need a director. Consequently the cinematographer takes over the direction (with Wong Jing once again being the co-director). Trust me, you’ll not notice the difference.

I found the English title a bit puzzling, and even now I am not sure how ransom could be black or what black ransom really is. It probably just sounded meaty and dark; Wong Jing is a great marketer, and I actually believe that he usually comes up with a title first and then constructs the movie around it (see BEAUTY ON DUTY or FUTURE X-COPS). That would also explain why his movies usually lack structure, dramaturgy and character development: the only purpose is to translate the cool title onto the screen.

BLACK RANSOM deals with ex-cops kidnapping triad members for money so that they can give some of the ransom to charity and use the rest to finance further activities against the mob. They want real justice, as they believe that the legislative apparatus rules in favor of the bad guys. Simon Yam plays a detective who plays by the rules and is chasing them after they took another gangster hostage. Soon a tense duel between Yam and the leader of the bad guys begins.

If you want to see a great duel between two worthy antagonists better watch FIRE OF CONSCIENCE. BLACK RANSOM is trying very hard to imitate every action flick from Michael Mann to Dante Lam, but it ends up a poor copy of the originals. It’s like patchwork, borrowing here and there, gluing pieces together that don’t really fit together – as so often Wong Jing doesn’t create an original work of art, but an amalgamation of what others have invented before.

BLACK RANSOM is not really bad though, but I can’t say it’s a solid action movie either. It’s still substandard by comparison, lacking beef, consistency, good actors and a script that makes sense. Too many things are irrelevant here, are confusing or plain nonsense. Cut the crap out and you’re left with little more than 40 minutes of a so-so film.

BLACK RANSOM is a movie you have definitely seen many times before, just better. So I wouldn’t know a real reason you should watch it. If you have a choice, choose something else. Anything.

J.


ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW [SUI YUET SAN TAU | 歲月神偷]

2010/06/10

http://www.meiah.com/syno.asp?id=20&lang=E

HONG KONG 2010   Directed & Written by: Alex Law Produced by: Mabel Cheung  Cinematography: Charlie Lam  Editing: Chi Wai Chan, Chi-Leung Kwong  Music: Henry Lai  Cast: Simon Yam, Sandra Ng, Buzz Chung, Aarif Lee, Evelyn Choi, Lawrence Ah Mon, Paul Chun, Ping Ha, Ann Hui, Clifton Ko, Vincent Kok, Tina Lau, Tung Cho Cheung

ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW is an autobiographical account of life in Hong Kong in the 60s and the struggle of a working class family in these turbulent times. The movie is told in a first-person narrative from the perspective of a boy (Big Ears): his father is a shoemaker who works hard but hardly earns enough to feed the family (also thanks to the corrupt British police force), his mother is a happy-go-lucky person helping the father selling shoes with her fast tongue, and his bigger brother is one of the most popular students, successful both in sports and in class. While other families are leaving Hong Kong for good Big Ears and his family cannot afford to do so and will have to go through an increasingly difficult period of their lives.

ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW may or may not be an authentic account of Hong Kong in the 60s (for those who haven’t been there a whole dimension of the movie is certainly lost), but it succeeds in making us feel sympathetic with Big Ears and his folks. Most of the time the script is subtle and involves the audience emotionally, lets us take part in Big Ears’ observations of family life, working life, school and relationships five decades ago. It’s the simple life and the unpretentious kind of filmmaking that sets ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW apart from many other dramas.

But as so often there’s a but: latest after two-thirds of the movie’s running time it becomes obvious that Law doesn’t really know how to dramatize his story. Once the 60s are reconstructed, the places, people, their routines and possible ambitions laid out in front of us we all realize that this is not enough for a work of fiction. It’s almost like you can sense that it strikes Alex Law at the same as the audience.

The conclusion he draws however makes things worse. First of all more and more obstacles are piled up in front of the family, to an extent that feels increasingly unrealistic. Sure, the protagonists usually have to go through more than real people as their fate is representative for all of us, but there’s always a point when enough is enough. ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW goes beyond that point and feels like a soap opera that tries to add more drama by the minute.

Secondly the movie starts to be repetitive by playing the same cards over and over. That’s when I really started to dislike Big Ears who replaces character development with crying. Get a grip. And in the father’s case scolding and screaming becomes methodological. Certainly it all starts with a good reason, but the movie never gets over it.

So the crying gets ever more, the screaming gets ever louder, the events get ever more dramatic and the movie unfortunately turns into a real tearjerker. It’s not that it is that obvious, as the overall tonality and approach don’t really change much. But the way the script runs into a dead-end and applies the most simplistic measures to counter its loopholes is anything but subtle.

Instead of taking the story to a whole new level or presenting us with a proper conclusion it gives us a big crescendo and then the story ends, coming back to some of the melodramatic plot threads about double rainbows and so forth. Did that makes sense to anyone by the way? The double rainbow did not seem to relate to anything much really; what’s supposed to be a symbol of some sort fails to transcend beyond a phenomenon of nature.

ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW could have been so much more but it mostly recapitulates memories of what life was like in the past. Maybe Law didn’t want to take the movie any further than that; I am very well aware that ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW is a sincere film and not meant to be bland entertainment. However, instead of a good story that is set in the 60s we have a movie set in the 60s…and then what?

ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW is kind of almost almost there – a little less almost there than other almost-there-movies. If you grew up in Hong Kong in the 60s, watch it. If not, almost almost there awaits.

J.


SPARROW [MAN JEUK | 文雀]

2010/05/23

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Hong Kong 2008   Directed by: Johnnie To Written by: Chan Kin-Chung, Fung Chih-Chiang Produced by: Johnnie To Cinematography by: Cheng Siu-Keung  Editing: David M. Richardson   Music: Xavier Jamaux, Fred Avril Cast: Simon Yam, Kelly Lin, Lam Ka-Tung, Law Wing-Cheong, Kenneth Cheung, Lam Suet

“Sparrow” is the term used in Hong Kong for pickpockets, and that’s exactly what Kei (Simon Yam) and his fellows are: everyday they roam the streets of Hong Kong to steel from locals and foreigners alike. Until one day Kei meets a mysterious woman (Kelly Lin) who seems to be on the run from someone trying to follow her. Their paths shall cross again soon but only later Kei and his friends will realize what her true intentions are.

Johnnie To’s SPARROW was shot in between other projects and reflects To’s filmmaking from around that time: unpretentious, light, witty and likeable, yet not important enough to compare to other of his earlier or later works. Rather something like the film next door.

Like many other, similar To works SPARROW is driven by coincidence: there is no master plan, no predictable outcome. The story is rather loose and as so often we are observers, witnessing how it unfolds. SPARROW is amiable enough for us to stay tuned and enjoy the show, but when it’s over it’s time to recapitulate that SPARROW is little more than “nice”.

I do appreciate the Mediterranean flair and flavor SPARROW displays, I was almost surprised Belmondo or Delon didn’t pop up out of the blue. But maybe that was just a cheap trick to make SPARROW more Cannes compatible. How know. Any which way SPARROW lacks some punch and isn’t exactly compelling, so its shelf life is only as long as its running time.

SPARROW is a beautiful and eloquent film best consumed on a Saturday afternoon. It’s a really tasty appetizer; just make sure you also have prepared a main course.

J.